CNN Photos

Inside the world of men and dolls

Imagine "Guys and Dolls" with a more literal interpretation.

Benita Marcussen photographed men who use life-size dolls as partners in her fittingly titled series, “Men & Dolls.”

It took Marcussen six months to gain the trust of the men she would later photograph. She initially made contact with them via an online forum for the so-called “love dolls.”

Each day, the men would gather in their private corner of the Internet to discuss anything from if they could get an STD from a used doll to chatting as the girls themselves.

At first, the men were hesitant when Marcussen approached them, because they felt their subculture had been misquoted and shown “as freaks” in previous media reports.

Then, a breakthrough happened; she was invited to a meeting with a group of the men and their dolls in Wales.

Marcussen, who is based in Copenhagen, Denmark, says her friends were concerned about her safety when she told them about the meeting. But she wasn’t worried.

“They were really gentlemen,” she says. “They weren’t interested in me at all! They wanted to show me how the dolls worked.”

Some of the men were married with children, others had never had a relationship with a woman; the men’s situations varied, but she says one thing united them – the dolls eased their loneliness.

After the initial meeting, it took another year for her to be able to photograph physical relationships the men have with the dolls.

Marcussen says the friends and family of the men had a hard time accepting the dolls at first, but eventually learned to tolerate the relationship.

“One mom was very specific,” she says. “She told me: ‘I would have preferred that my son had met a real woman.’ ”

Marcussen first learned about men who live with dolls through the documentary “Guys and Dolls.” The community also had a star turn in the 2007 film “Lars and the Real Girl,” starring Ryan Gosling.

One of the men Marcussen photographed now owns the doll, Bianca, that appeared as Gosling’s romantic interest.

“Her whole identity now is that she’s a movie star,” she says. “She’s the Bianca.”

Marcussen says she pursued the project to not only show others that this subculture exists, but also to fight prejudice against it.

“Everybody has stuff they don’t share,” she says.

If the dolls are helping them, she asks, who are we to judge?

- Sarah LeTrent, CNN